Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 26, 2010

Guest Opinion: Veni Vidi Vici — I came, I saw and was conquered by Invictus

by Nimo Lesui

Last month I finally got to see Invictus. I know it was a little late since the release date, but God finally parted the clouds and rained down an opportunity. Literally — something to see on a rainy day.

For those who missed it, the film Invictus features Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Freeman plays South African President Nelson Mandela and the film tells how he used the "racist" all-white South African rugby team to unite the nation.

When asked what my thoughts were on this film as a young person living in East Palo Alto, I simply loved it. It was powerful, moving and creative.

At first glance, I believed the message of this movie was that it takes a sports team to unite a nation. Yet I found myself becoming puzzled about the message of using sports to unite a nation: "Now wait a minute," I thought. "This sounds like a movie more for the male community and athletic females. Come on, now. Sports?"

But still something within me drove me to want to see this movie more and more as the weeks passed. My anxiety grew, despite my ambivalence: "What if the movie isn't in the theaters by the time I go to see it? That is IF I go see it!"

After seeing the movie, I believe the message it conveys to the world is exactly what Mandela quoted from the poem Invictus by English poet William Ernest Henley: "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." In other words, we as human beings have the power to choose our own fate, our own destiny. But if we have that liberty of choosing our own destiny, why don't we ever exercise this freedom?

In East Palo Alto, the only things we are known for is a neighbor of ours getting shot or dying. The sad thing? These individuals who end up losing their lives don't even get to see the age of 25 and up. Why can't East Palo Alto, and the rest of the Midpeninsula, be known for something aside from death having a firm grip on an individual?

Concerning the issue of race, some natives of East Palo Alto find it disturbing that a person of fair or pale skin is in the same liquor store as themselves. When East Palo Alto residents hear the city name Palo Alto the stereotype of "rich white folks being stuck-up" comes to mind.

In contrast, many Palo Alto residents have the stereotype that East Palo Alto is full of "ghetto, rude people that might do a drive-by." We can't possibly be going back to the Martin Luther King days, can we? King once stated, "People hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don't know each other."

Instead of assuming that the white person is stuck-up, why not try to make some conversation? Just because the person is fair skinned or has lighter skin tone than yours doesn't simply mean that they find you inferior or scary.

On University Avenue, there is a traffic light that separates Palo Alto from East Palo Alto. That light signifies a lot. To some it signifies a boundary. To others it signifies escaping the "ghetto" and entering the "rich white neighborhood."

But that is so ignorant of us. The only thing that's separating us is a traffic light? We share the same street name, for goodness sake! Without the traffic light there, University Avenue still runs through East Palo Alto and Palo Alto from the Dumbarton Bridge approach until it reaches the Stanford University campus.

Culturally, from opposite sides of the traffic light, how can we apply "choosing our own destiny"? Well, this is the year of change. As Barack Obama said, "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

To East Palo Alto and the rest of the Midpeninsula, this is the year where we have to choose our own destiny. No longer should we be known as the killer capital or looked down upon. We shall rise from the ashes like a phoenix and beat the system. How? By using our common sense! The key is lying right there at your feet. All you have to do is bend down and pick it up.

Economically, East Palo Alto looks like any other urban area that you see: trash littered about carelessly, broken-down shacked-up buildings, and youth wandering around idly. The thing that the residents don't realize is that they have the liberty of creating or defining their own destinies. Again, addressing East Palo Alto and the rest of the Midpeninsula, I say to you that no matter how hard your circumstances are you are the master of your fate, the captain of your souls.

All the drifting young people need is a little nudge and inspiration, a dose of hope and vision, the gentle touch of Mandela and the dream of King.

So how can we overcome this? Shall we assemble the mayors out of the whole Midpeninsula and vote to get a rugby team started? That is merely a daydream; far from reality, although that can be used as inspiration.

In reality, we are capable of controlling our own destinies. We have the key to unlock the doors and work around the barriers confronting us.

Nimo Lesui is a native of Santa Cruz who has resided in East Palo Alto since 2003. She works for the community website, EPA.net, where she leads the Editorial Board and participated in the "Get Fit Summer" series of interviews with young persons about health and fitness. She can be e-mailed at nlesui.lop@gmail.com.

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